A Saturday Night with Ibibio Sound Machine and DJ Sinkane

Posted: October 28, 2022 by Kat Meow in Afrobeats, England, Funk, Ibibio Sound Machine, Live Shows, Post Punk

I think it was WFUV’s Russ Borris who first played Ibibio Sound Machine on the radio on my way to work, and I was instantly hooked.  Their fourth album, called Electricity, is an infectious mix of African percussion with electronic keys and horns for days.  It’s like Afrobeat dance punk, and it’s stunning.  Their latest album was produced by dance titans Hot Chip, who are beloved in New York and are basically cousins of hometown heroes LCD Soundsystem.  Everyone in this room would have these three on the same playlist, which made me a little irritated that Brooklyn Bowl wasn’t packed to the gills with heads the way I have seen this venue before.  This is the party.  Imagine missing this.  Nonetheless, there was a respectably sized crowd of eclectics, so I didn’t feel too bad. 

The show opened with a DJ set from Sinkane.  His music was a delicious mix of Afrobeats and funk/soul rhythms I hadn’t heard before.  I’m not usually keen on DJ sets in general because I don’t want to watch people standing behind their setups twiddling knobs and buttons – I watch Star Trek for that.  But Sinkane was actually engaging to watch.  He is as into the music he’s playing as anyone in the crowd would be, and he grooves like every minute of sound he twists and twiddles is an opportunity not to be wasted – a thought given extra weight by his ominous tee shirt that shouted “HEAVEN HELP US” in bold colors.  Dancing now is surviving Now.  The crowd swings smiles and arms around a loose floor.  One crowd-goer, I thought, was doing her whole Zumba routine.  Oh, to have that stamina.

Lights go dark, and the crowd turns forward expectantly as deep tones flood the floor.  Ibibio Sound Machine descend to the stage.  They are a gorgeous set of performers in colorful printed patterns and geometric embroidery.  Frontwoman and vocalist Eno Williams was a dream in marigold yellow, draped in layers of fabric from her powerful epaulettes, and belted, like the jumpsuit of an Afrofuturist super saiyan.  Medallions dangle from her crown of braided hair.  She is utterly, unbelievably, beautiful.  

They eased in with “Electricity,” a perfect opener that washes away the “big big English/big big grammar” of the world’s nonsense.  It grows in layers of percussion and synth and envelopes you in the song’s message of love.  That’s when guitarist Alfred Kari Bannerman pulls out an austere-looking Ghanain instrument called a “korego.”  It produces this pure plucking tone that sounds otherworldly in context of Hot Chip style synths and drums.  Bannerman chants with the korego, deepening its thick notes.  Every so often you go to a show and you see a moment of something so uniquely beautiful that you know you will remember it for a very long time.  

We are, like, 3 minutes into the show, and I’m already levitated on rhythm, bless.  

I was perched at the front of the stage beneath Afla Sackey’s drums – Sackey’s face is grinning through his concentration while his hands slap out the rhythms that make my hips twirl.  His hands are a blur during “17 18 19” and I am complete – this is the tune that first hooked me.  At one point Sackey takes the mic and shares how, when he plays, all of his problems disappear.  Yeah, when you play, mine do too, heh.

Eno addresses the crowd with love.  She reveals “Protection From Evil” was written as a ward against Corona before its wobbly electro tones begin the song’s incantation.  Ibibio is a gorgeous language I can only interpret through my hips.  The funk keeps coming.  “I Need You to Be Sweet Like Sugar (Nnge Nte Suka)” and “Afo Ken Doko Mien” give us slower grooves, and Eno gets to use a voice modulator and keys during the most gentle moment of the show.  “Wanna Come Down” and “Wanna See Your Face Again” show her love for the Brooklyn crowd.  At one point, DJ Sinkane and several of the more fabulous looking crowd members joined ISM on stage to smash some percussion.  A flautist named Domenica Fossati, from Brooklyn’s own Underground System, tore into a fiery flute solo while Williams danced in celebration.  

My poor injured feet and aching body.  At one point I held onto the stage’s barriers just so I could keep whipping my aging heft from side to side.  I had had two weeks of several low-key or just plain underwhelming shows, and Ibibio Sound Machine set me alight in the way I needed.  You know you love a band when you can’t stop listening to them, for days on days on days, after seeing them live.  I only wish some snafu hadn’t taken away our opportunity hear soulful anthem “All That You Want” as I was ready to croon along to it.  But it’s no matter, I’m sure the chance will come.  Maybe one day I’ll get to see them in their London home base.  In the mean time, Ibibio’s four albums of bonafide bangers will have to do.

Ibibio Sound Machine are Eno Williams, Afla Sackey, Alfred Bannerman, Winston Blissett, Joseph Amoako, Scott Baylis, Tony Hayden, and Max Grunhard.

Ibibio Sound Machine Instagram ★ Ibibio Sound Machine Bandcamp ★ Ibibio Sound Machine Website

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